GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Nick Deren has a pretty unique way of motivating his youth football teams to do what he says.

“Do you know Christian Pulisic?” – he asks. “Well, I trained him.”

Just mentioning Pulisic’s name usually does the trick, he says. The 24-year-old player is perhaps the most famous player on the United States men’s national soccer team that prepares for World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

Christian Pulisic has been known to score between four and five goals per game while playing at an age level or two in the competition. Here he is pictured in the back row, second from the left. (November 21, 2022)

Pulisic is one of seven American-born players in the Premier League, one of the world’s leading soccer organizations. Since joining Chelsea in 2019, he has made his mark in international competitions, including helping Chelsea win the UEFA Champions League in 2021.

Before joining the Premier League and leading the USMNT, he dominated the Michigan Rush youth development program. While Deren would love to take responsibility for Pulisic’s success, he admits the then 7-year-old had skills far beyond his age.

“He can go coast to coast at any time,” Derren said. “It was like watching Michael Jordan or Kobe (Bryant) play.”

The team was already good, but the addition of Pulisic made them “untouchable”, according to Deren. He remembers the team regularly outscoring the opposition by 10-15 goals and he had to ask the team, particularly the young Pulisic, to tone it down.

“He just confused everybody,” Deren said. “After all these years, it’s still the talk of the league.”

But Pulisic may never have become the force he was in the Michigan Rush if it weren’t for his father, Mark Pulisic. The Pulisics moved to Michigan after years in Pennsylvania and England, where his mother is from. Mark Pulisic decided to take a job with the Detroit Ignition, a professional soccer team in the defunct Major League Indoor Soccer.

After moving to the Wolverine State, Mark Pulisic went to Deren and the other Michigan Rush coaches, showed them a video of his son playing and asked if he could join the team.

“It’s a funny story,” Derren said. “Obviously we told him he could play. There wasn’t even a question after watching it.”

Christian Pulisic (far right), now a USMNT and Chelsea star, spent some of his formative years on the soccer fields in Michigan. (November 21, 2022)

Deren still keeps in touch with the Pulisicks. He wrote a message to Marko Pulisic after Christian Pulisic and Chelsea won the Champions League. In turn, he was presented with a one-of-a-kind selfie of Pulisic and a cup.

Derren credits Christian Pulisix’s parents for keeping him focused on football, even without letting him play football.

“His parents are some of the best people alive,” Derren said. “They made him play other sports so he wouldn’t burn out and get bored.”

Pulisic still spent the following years playing soccer on teams with kids and against kids two years his senior, and still scoring four to five goals a game, before eventually moving to Pennsylvania and Europe to continue your career.

Fans are counting on Pulisic to come through this World Cup after the USMNT failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament. It’s a redemption tour for the players, including Pulisic, who is expected to be a catalyst for the team. Pulisic scored 21 goals in 52 appearances for the USMNT.

“He’s going to have to carry the team,” Deren said. “If he can get help, they can go far.”

Regardless of the final result, Deren said Pulisic remains an important role model in soccer, especially here in the U.S.

“He shows children that a dream is possible. That they don’t need to go to Europe, they can grow and develop here,” he said.

The USMNT will play Wales on Monday before facing England on Friday. They conclude group play against Iran on November 29.

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